State Sen. Mike Gabbard on Monday strongly defended Rep. Jessica Wooley's nomination as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, challenging senators critical of her to explain why she is not qualified to lead the state agency.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to confirm Wooley. Sources said after a private Senate caucus Monday that Wooley might have the votes to prevail.
Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, which held a confirmation hearing on Wooley this month that Gabbard called a "lovefest," questioned why Sen. Clarence Nishihara and others who oppose Wooley's confirmation did not come forward sooner or provide specific evidence against her.
"I think it's outrageous for one legislator to smear another legislator's reputation without evidence to back that up," said Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo).
Wooley, an attorney and environmental advocate, has served in the House since 2008. Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed her in March to lead the OEQC, saying that her "her legal and public service background will be a great asset in protecting Hawaii's fragile environment."
Gabbard noted that Wooley's term as OEQC director would expire after June 2015, a one-year appointment.
"So for those of my colleagues who oppose her, why not vote up and see if she can do a good job, and then they'll have an opportunity to vote on her reconfirmation in 2015," he said.
While Nishihara and Wooley have fought over whether to label genetically modified organisms in food — which Wooley supports — he and others say their objection to Wooley's confirmation is over the way she has conducted herself during negotiations on bills.
Nishihara (D, Waipahu-Pearl City) has said that Wooley does not keep her word, a flaw he believes would make her ill-suited to direct a state agency.
Environmental activists with the Sierra Club Hawaii and Babes Against Biotech have mobilized on Wooley's behalf and have urged the Senate to confirm her.
Wooley (D, Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe) could not be reached for comment Monday.
"Everyone can vote their conscience," said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (D, Kakaako-McCully-Waikiki).